In response to the article “Modifying the Stigma Surrounding GMOs”:
The author of this article seems all too willing to embrace genetically modified organisms (GMO’S) without full knowledge of the facts. While it is true at this time that the effect of consumption of GMO’s has not been shown to have any immediate deleterious effects, further testing is desperately needed. The long-term effects are still unknown and caution is of the utmost importance.
As to the claim that growing GMO crops does not have a negative impact on the environment, one must take pause. An already prevalent result of growing GMO’s is the increased use of pesticides, which occurs as these new GMO crops become increasingly resistant. This over-use of pesticides is creating super-weeds and insecticide-resistant insect populations; as a result, farmers are forced to increase their use of pesticides exponentially, and some even resort to using higher-risk chemicals in order to protect their crops. This creates a hidden tax on consumers as the price of food is raised to compensate for these increased measures in ensuring crop survival; furthermore, it is directly responsible for the release of larger amounts of toxic chemicals into the environment.
On a similar note, GMO techniques have a diminishing effect on biodiversity. Loss of plant variety is occurring due to the preference of growing a particular strain of certain crops on a large scale. This also increases the risk of vulnerability to plant diseases and pests, which can lead to a serious problem if a given crop is reduced to only a few strains. The practice of monocropping is also harmful to the soil as it depletes nutrients. Farmers must resort to using fertilizers, which contribute to environmental problems in the form of pollution.
This claim that cross-pollination is basically the same as genetic modification is simply misinformed. Genetic modification involves taking desired genes from a plant or animal and sticking it in a target plant in order to have certain characteristics. It is a far cry to compare cross-breeding different types of bananas with sticking a fish gene in a tomato. In a sense, if one plays on the semantic ambiguity of the term “genetic modification,” a certain parallel can be established. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize the fundamental difference between the two processes in question.
The author also attributes peoples fear of GMO’s to their apparent “unnaturalness.” He further claims that these fears are unfounded because after all, hemlock and arsenic are found in “nature,” and they’re deadly when ingested. It is true that not all “natural” things are good for us by virtue of their “natural” status, but it does not follow that all “unnatural” things are intrinsically beneficial either by the same logic. Poison can be manufactured.
The article seems to gloss over many of the already existing problems surrounding GMO’s while simultaneously touting their existence as a wonderful super miracle that will solve world hunger issues and save us from the Malthusian dystopia that surely awaits humanity if we fail to embrace GMO’s in all their magical glory. The author appears to be working at cross purposes as he does say that adequate testing must be done and labeling should be required. Agribusinesses have made it clear that they do not support these policies and they will not enact such measures unless the public puts pressure on them.
The stigma surrounding GMO’s exists for a reason. Large agribusinesses like Monsanto have actively fought against simple labeling laws, and they have failed to address the public’s concern about the potential harm surrounding the increased use of pesticides as well as the possible negative long-term effects of human consumption. Healthy skepticism is a good thing, and it is clear that GMO’s have not yet satisfied criteria that would enable one to claim that they are safe. At the very least, they should be labeled if for no other reason than that people should have all the information available to make up their own mind about what goes into their bodies. Jumping on the pro-GMO bandwagon at this stage will only make it harder to obtain the relevant data, enabling companies like Monsanto to continue skirting the issue.
Max Bevis is a third-year philosophy major.